On Making New Year’s Resolutions

counseling santa monicaIt’s usually around the end of the year that people start thinking about what they want to do differently during the following year.  Often, they wait to institute any changes as they gear up (aka get a lot of the “bad behavior” in) before January 1st.

Some of the most common New Year’s Resolutions I hear about in my psychotherapy practice have to do with weight loss, a decrease in substance use, an increase in exercise and a job related change.  The resolutions tend to be concrete and specific, i.e. “I want to lose 15 pounds by April.” Then, what tends to happen is a predominance of suffering as they try to reach the goal, a feeling of profound failure if the goal is not entirely met and a lack of energy toward maintaining the goal even if it is achieved.  There is so much focus on this future oriented result, that the process becomes a stressful, all or nothing journey about success or failure.

I assist clients with achieving their goals, by first helping them to identify their true intentions. Intentions represent the particular purpose behind the goal setting.  They embody your internal values whereas goals establish your desired external outcomes.  So, when people are setting goals to lose weight, for example, it is extremely useful for them to fully identify their reasons for wanting to achieve this goal, related to their sense of self.  Often, when asked for the reasons why a goal is being set, people will answer by simply saying, they just need to or they should.  This response reflects an external pressure as opposed to an internal belief.  In these cases, there is a disconnect between self and goal, which can negatively impact the likelihood of a successful outcome. Why do they WANT to do this, as opposed to need to or should? Do they want to feel confidence, a sense of pride, live a healthy existence, for instance? Once people are able to acknowledge the personal values that are fueling the desired outcome, there is a much more unified process that takes place.

Intentions act as guiding principles that can give you direction, not just toward meeting your goals, but in living an integrated existence.  In reference to the above example, if you determine and then remind yourself, that confidence, pride and health really matter to you, you will more readily make decisions and take actions that support and reinforce these inner values.  This will include the appropriate steps to be taken in order to lose weight.  The positive feelings linked to success can be experienced long before the goal is achieved.  Knowing you are staying true to your intentions through your efforts can evoke feelings of comfort, satisfaction and happiness.  This mind state will serve to strengthen your abilities to strive for your goals.  It will also help you stay aware of what is really important to you so that you won’t need to wait until December of each year to make the changes in your life that will improve your health and well being.